“They were kind of hungry because we hadn’t played in almost two weeks,” head coach Donna Papa said. “And so, we just really stressed keeping everything simple and fun and I think that’s what we did.”
Syracuse responded with a pair of runs during the second and third innings against UNC pitcher Brittany Pickett, the ACC Freshman of the Year, but she helped her own cause when she homered to center field in the bottom of the third.
From that point on, UNC was able to manage the game and protect its lead, even through a lightning delay that started during the fourth inning and spanned about 70 minutes.
Trailing by six with one inning to go, the Orange pulled within four on an RBI-double by sophomore left fielder Bryce Holmgren, but Pickett didn’t let them get any closer than that.
The Tar Heels still had six more innings to play afterward, but their explosive first was too much for Syracuse to overcome. The Orange did well from that point on, but were constantly playing from behind.
“If you score in the first inning, you get runs across," Bailiff said. "It’s a lot more relaxing, for sure."
Three to know
Brittany Pickett, UNC: Arguably the Tar Heels’ most dynamic player, Pickett showed why against Syracuse. Her pitching performance was typical of the year she’s had on the mound – she picked up her 21st win of the season – while also showing her power at the plate.
When asked about whether it’s more fun to homer or strike out seven batters like she did against the Orange, Pickett said nothing beats putting runs on the board.
“Scoring runs is really important,” she said with a smile. “So, I think hitting a home run is fun.”
Katie Bailiff, UNC: The sophomore catcher drove in two of UNC’s runs with her first-inning single and also drew two walks.
Faith Cain, Syracuse: Cain, the Orange’s junior designated player, went 2-4 and put Syracuse on the board with a monstrous home run to left field in the second inning.
By the numbers
1: out recorded by Syracuse junior pitcher AnnaMarie Gatti in the first inning before she was pulled.
9: walks by Tar Heel batters.
12: home runs for Pickett this year, which ties a UNC first-year record.
18: days since UNC’s last win, which came at Syracuse on April 23, prior to Thursday.
24: wins at Anderson Stadium in 2017 for the Tar Heels.
They said it
“I’m actually pumped. I’m ready to take them on again for the fourth time and really go at them hard this time – really just shut them up because I know that they’ve been doing a lot of talking.” – Pickett on Friday’s game against N.C. State.
Where do they play next?
The Tar Heels and the Wolfpack are scheduled to play at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. The winner of that contest will face either No. 1 seed Florida State or No. 5 seed Notre Dame in Saturday's championship game.
UNC took two out of three games from its regular season series against N.C. State in March.
“I think it’s going to be a great game between two teams,” Papa said. “They’re fighting to get into the championship to potentially win it because that’s really the only way they’ll be able to go to the postseason.”